Covid: Care home restrictions to be eased in England

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By Doug Faulkner BBC News




Covid restrictions on adult social care will be eased in England from Monday, the government has announced.





There will be no limit on the number of visitors allowed at care homes, self-isolation periods will be cut and care homes will only have to follow outbreak management rules for 14 days, not 28.





The change is the latest rolling back of Plan B curbs in England.






Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the move meant people could see more of their loved ones.






“I know how vital companionship is to those living in care homes and the positive difference visits make,” he said.






Each of the UK nations sets its own rules on care homes, withĀ Scotland easing its restrictionsĀ last week.







The Welsh government said there was “no prescribed limit” on the number of indoor visitors and care homes should mange them based on risk assessments.







In England, by 16 February care workers will be asked to take lateral flow tests before their shifts, replacing the current system which includes weekly asymptomatic PCR tests.






Self-isolation periods will be reduced from 14 to 10 days for those who test positive, with further reductions if they test negative on days five and six.







Isolation periods for those in care following an emergency hospital visit will be reduced from 14 days to a maximum of 10 days.







And requirements for testing or self-isolation following normal visits out will be removed.







The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the new measures would ensure there were “still robust protections in place”.






Care minister Gillian Keegan said the changes were thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout and were backed by scientists.






The government said 86.5% of all care home residents have now had their booster jab.





With the rest of society opening up, the refrain I’ve heard from families of care home residents and from care staff has often been “they’ve forgotten us,” so Thursday’s early morning announcement of the easing of visiting restrictions will be a huge relief.






The difficulty throughout the pandemic has been getting the balance right when it comes to protecting residents.






At the start, with so many deaths in care homes, only end-of-life visits were allowed, then there were visits behind screens and more recently just named visitors. Many families believe the restrictions themselves have taken a huge toll on the health and wellbeing of the people they love.






To prevent families and friends being completely shut out at any point in the future, campaigners want it to be a legal right for each resident to have unrestricted support from someone who is important to them.





Nadra Ahmed, head of the National Care Association, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that, while care providers would aim to allow unlimited visits, the changes would come with some challenges, such as staff shortages and infection control measures.






“As long as we can do things safely then we should be able to do all of the above with the visiting and I think nothing should compromise the wellbeing of the individuals physically and mentally,” she said.

Diane Mayhew, co-founder of the Rights for Residents campaign group, said she “could not be happier” following the announcement but said the devil would be in the detail.






She told BBC Breakfast there was no reason why it could not have happened sooner, adding that the majority of care home residents had received their booster jabs.







One of those who has been separated from their loved one is Suzy MacPherson, who last saw her 96-year-old mother before Christmas.







An outbreak at her home meant it was closed to all but essential care givers, she said but she hoped that the rule changes would improve things.







“I believe that if families are able to go back in that will support the staff. If I can sit with my mum for a few hours, hold her hand and talk to her then she is not going to be ringing her bell and asking for help from the carers,” she said.







Some people have said they have been unable to see relatives for weeks due to cycles of outbreaks and outbreak management measures.







Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group which represents independent care providers in Yorkshire and North Yorkshire, said care home providers were caught between not following guidance – potentially invalidating insurance – and using common sense.







It will be up to individual care homes whether to implement the rule changes and Mr Padgham told Today that the majority of care homes would want visitors to come but asked for a bit of patience while they got measures in place.








Lorren Rea, whose 83-year-old mother is in a care home, told BBC News she “absolutely cannot wait” to visit properly. She said that, at her mother’s care home, only two named visitors were allowed but often there were very few appointments available – meaning visits took place once a week or sometimes once every fortnight.







Even then visits were held in a garden room with a glass partition and intercom which made it hard to communicate with her deaf mother, she said.